by Joe Guzzardi
March 18, 2011
The New York-based Harvard Maintenance Company advertises that it “sets the highest standard” in its industry which provides janitorial, custodial and security services. However, its standards apparently don’t include hiring legal workers.
According to the Service Employees International Union, 240 Harvard Maintenance employees in Minnesota suspected of being illegal immigrants will be fired by the end of March. Christopher Nulty, an S.E.I.U. representative said that last December the U.S. Department of Homeland Security notified the company that it believed some workers were illegal immigrants and, as is the ICE practice, gave the employees 90 days to produce proof to the contrary.
In a similar audit case two years ago, more than 1,200 janitors at ABM, another large commercial cleaning company in the Twin Cities, lost their jobs. And last year in Minnesota the Chipotle Mexican Grill dismissed hundreds of its workers under similar circumstances. While these are bad times to be an illegal immigrant worker in Minneapolis, the firings represent as many as 2,000 job opportunities for unemployed Americans.
Javier Morillo, local president of SEIU, said that the investigations of Harvard Maintenance and ABM didn’t fit with ICE’s stated goal of focusing on employers who knowingly hire and exploit unlawful workers. "The janitors of the Twin Cities that are in the union, they’re not depressing wages for janitors," Morillo said. "There are janitorial companies that pay much, much less that actually depress wages that are not being targeted for ICE audits." Morillo did not mention any specific companies that pay less. And his comment lacks credibility because the S.E.I.U. is one of the biggest supporters of comprehensive immigration reform that would provide amnesty to millions of illegal alien workers.
What’s become lost in the debate about immigration-related firings is how important these entry level jobs in janitorial and food service can be to struggling Americans. They provide the most essential characteristic in employment: once a worker is hired, no matter what his educational or personal background may be, he enters the employment loop. Once he proves himself, then he can move up to a better job.
If you’re not working, it’s hard to find a job. But once you have a foot in the door, the job you hold provides a stepping stone to better, higher paying employment that may also come with medical insurance, paid vacation and a pension.
Consider janitorial jobs. Many of these positions in hotels, office buildings or school campuses were once largely filled by African-Americans. From the end of World War II until the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, black workers were commonly found at these jobs, many of which were union.
But the large influx of post-IRCA immigrants who had lower wage expectations gradually pushed Americans to the back of the line. This was doubly true in the cities like Los Angeles and New York that received large numbers of new immigrants. As more immigrants followed, both legally and illegally, a snowball effect began. Americans displaced from hotel and waiter jobs turned to fast food employment only to be eventually pushed out of that line of work too.
The evidence that immigration has contributed to the growing numbers of unemployed Americans is indisputable. A January study by the Reuters Group and Northeast University’s Center for Labor Studies found that from 2008 to 2010, 1.1 million new immigrants landed jobs even as U.S. household employment declined by 6.26 million during that same period. Often, the study concluded, these were jobs Americans “could do” but immigrants were “willing to work for less wages.”
Unless all immigration is substantially reduced, the foreign-born displacement of American workers will continue.
Joe Guzzardi has written editorial columns—mostly about immigration and related social issues – since 1990. He is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) and his columns have frequently been syndicated in various U.S. newspapers and websites. He can be reached at [email protected]